Our Friend Committed Suicide
Could We Have Done More to Prevent Our Friend's Suicide?
When we first met Rich in 1992, we never dreamed he'd ever commit suicide. He had come West to our town a few years back, and he came into our lives when he was sent out by a plumber we had called. Gradually he became a close friend over the years.
Toward the end of his life, he was in a lot of pain which he attributed to arthritis in old sports injuries, but which I had suspected might be bone cancer. He had let his medical insurance lapse, and absolutely refused to quit smoking. I told him too often I wish he'd quit because we didn't want to lose him to lung cancer. He always assured me we wouldn't.
He also promised that night to tell me if he ever knew he had a terminal illness so I could have time to get used to losing him. He knew losing our son had been hard on my husband and me, and that he had become somewhat like another son in our hearts. He was estranged from his own family, though we tried many times to get him to contact his mother and let her know he was alive and well. He never would do it. He said he didn't even know where she was anymore.
Only Rich Could Hear the Choir Singing
Rich's Last Visit
One hot Tuesday night in May, 2003, Rich came to visit us after work on his way home. He had been concerned for a couple of months about the music in his head that no one but he could hear. It kept him awake at night. He said he kept hearing hymns. He didn't know if he was having some sort of spiritual experience or going crazy. He did know he was in pain constantly and losing sleep. He hadn't had a good night's sleep in weeks. He had even bought ingredients from chemists to try to formulate his own arthritis medicines because he couldn't afford the expensive over-the-counter salves that seemed to help.
On that hot May evening when he dropped by, he seemed normal until he sat down. I had been upstairs working on the computer, and Rich had been talking to my husband. I, unfortunately, had not heard their conversation.
Shortly after I entered the room and sat down, Rich began to sob. He cried for what seemed a long time. When we asked why, he said it was good, all good. I won't explain all of that conversation now, but we sat with him until he seemed calmer and quieter. Then he seemed almost in a trance and asked if we could hear the music. Of course, we couldn't. We sat for what seemed a very long time very quietly while he listened to what we couldn't hear. We felt very unsure of what to say or do, since we had never encountered anything like this before, and never with him. He finally seemed more normal and we talked about his health. We offered him some ice cream since it was so hot that night. He accepted it, but it sat uneaten. Finally, he said he needed to go home and go to bed. Kosta, my husband, said "I'll pray you can sleep tonight.
Rich replied, "You'd better pray I can get up tomorrow," which we thought nothing of since he often found it hard to get up in time for work (he owned his auto mechanic business).
My husband offered to drive him home since he was so tired, but he said he'd be able to get home OK. He insisted I pack the ice cream in something cold because he said he'd want it later that night before bed. I found a way to pack the ice cream. He gave us both the usual big hug before he left. I helped him carry the ice cream to the car. I again cautioned him to be careful.
After he left I went back up to work and a few minutes later Rich called to let us know he had arrived home safely. He said he knew we had been concerned. I thanked him for his consideration since he did not normally make these sorts of calls. Little did I know that I would be the last one to speak with him alive. We didn't know he'd come to say goodbye until the next night.
Rich Wanted To Save the Ice Cream
How Our Friendship with Rich Began
We called a plumber to fix something on our Templeton house, and the plumber sent Rich. We had not really moved into our small house on acreage here in Templeton. We had unexpectedly lost our son in an accident just before we actually closed the deal. We wanted to stay among the people in Newbury Park who had known Jason for a bit longer.
Sometimes my husband Kosta would come to the new Templeton house alone to see if we could get a trailer on the property into rentable shape before we moved completely into the the house. Sometimes we would spend weekends in the Templeton house, to which we'd moved a few things necessary for cooking, sleeping and relaxing -- kitchen table and chairs, old fridge, a sofa and some lamps. We had bought two beds from the former owners and the stove was built in.
Kosta had met Rich first on one of his solitary trips to the Templeton house. They got on very well with each other and had some interesting conversations on spiritual things. Rich had made no religious commitment, but did have some religious background. He also had a mysterious past that kept him constantly on the alert for people in his past who might show up and create problems in the new life he was trying to start.
I didn't participate in the conversations. Rich was a stranger to me during this period. I only met him when he spent a week with us in Newbury park just before we moved. That is when we hired him to fix some things there and to help us with the move.itself.
We needed two trucks, and Rich, who had been a truck driver in the recent past, was going to drive the larger rental truck while Kosta drove the smaller one. The plan was that we would move everything into the trucks and sleep in bags on the floor and then get up early and move in the morning. It was a three hour trip in a car. I knew I'd never sleep well on the floor when I was tense about the move anyway, so I got in the car at midnight and drove to Templeton, which already had two beds. We had it sparsely furnished for those weekends we had spent there for over a year. I arrived at 3:00 AM. It was really kind of exciting, but I quickly went to bed knowing the next day would be a hard one. People from our new Templeton church were going to be on hand when the trucks arrived to help unload them and move us in.
It was pouring down rain when the trucks arrived late in the day. One of the trucks got stuck in the mud while we were unloading the other one. One of the men from the church who lived on a farm nearby got a tracker and hauled the truck out of the mud so we could unload it nearer to the house.
Although Rich didn't say anything at the time, he later said he was amazed at how people from our Newbury Park church and other Christian friends had helped us load the truck, and how people from our new church were so helpful in unloading and moving us in. Rich was getting paid. Our friends weren't. Rich had not seen that kind of helpfulness that is a normal part of church life before. It impressed him that so many people who were getting nothing in return and who barely knew us yet would turn out in force on a rainy night and empty trucks and take boxes and furniture into the house. He had not ever seen a Christian church in action before.
The Decision to Let Rich Live with Us Temporarily
If you've ever moved, you know what the new house looks like when everything is still in boxes. Picture what this is like when the house you moved out of is over twice as big as the one you just moved into. By the time the helpers had left, we still had lots of boxes out in the rain that were covered with tarps. They would be moved into an out building as soon as possible. Rich was coming by daily to do odd jobs. He was very talented as a handyman and mechanic, and there was lots to be done. We had loaned him one of our old cars so he could drive back and forth from a trailer he lived in about 15 minutes away. Shortly into the week he got sick, and we sent him home early to rest up.
The next morning when we went outside, he was there, sleeping in the car. He told us he had been evicted by the buddies who owned the trailer for reasons that seemed to us rather unjust and probably illegal. (I should note here that we made our living as landlords, and we would not have thrown a sick man out on the street with no notice.)
Now we had a problem to deal with. Where would Rich sleep? We couldn't even get into the extra bedroom -- too much stuff was in the way and Rich was still somewhat sick. We couldn't very well ask someone with the flu to work his way to his bed. Our solution that first night was to see if the church could help. They helped Rich connect with the group that helped the homeless. Since Rich had not been able to get back into his former residence to even get his personal items, we supplied him with things like a toothbrush to take to the motel room where he would stay that night.
After he was gone that night, Kosta asked me how I'd feel about letting Rich live with us until he could get back on his feet and earn enough to be able to afford someplace to live. Keep in mind that I didn't know much about Rich then. I knew Kosta highly respected his mechanical abilities.But he had also described him as someone who had a troubled life, who had moral issues, who had some pretty unsavory friends, and as someone who normally caroused at night and sometimes didn't get up until noon.
He hadn't behaved that way when he was with us, but he did have the history in the very recent past. His former landlord was one of his "buddies." You also have to know that when we met Rich he could have passed for the young Charles Manson in his appearance. Let's just say his background and appearance did not inspire trust. On the other hand, I know my husband would not have proposed this idea if he thought Rich would do us harm. So that next day, Rich helped us clear the room where he would sleep, and he moved in.
A Developing Friendship
Or how Rich proved himself a friend and became like family.
It was still pouring rain daily. We were learning about living in the country where our water came from a well. Sometimes when the ground is very wet and the wind is blowing hard, the power lines go down. When that happens, you have no water.
About two days after Rich moved in, Kosta got very sick with bronchitis. He was supposed to drink lots of water and take medication. The power went out. Not only were we short of drinking water, but we couldn't even flush toilets unless we did it with pails of water. There was one large "faucet" from the pump that was designed as a sort of fire hydrant. You could also use it to fill buckets.
Rich went to fill a bucket, in pouring down rain, every few hours so that we could maintain some semblance of basic hygiene. What somewhat surprised me was the way Rich didn't wait to be asked. He pitched in doing whatever needed to be done as though he was a member of the family -- not a hired hand, not a guest. He seemed to know just what to do and did it.
Kosta was too sick to eat, but Rich and I were hungry. Cooking was out of the question, so I took him to Sizzler so we could get a good meal that night. On the way, Rich noticed my turn signal was out, and told me if I'd stop at Kragen on the way home he could pick up the part and have it fixed in a jiffy. I stopped and he fixed it.
During dinner we had time to talk and I got to know a bit more about Rich as a person. One of the interesting things about him was that although he was very intelligent, he had missed a lot of school and there were many gaps in his knowledge. He was eager to fill those gaps through conversations and reading. We had put him in the bedroom with all the loaded bookcases, and he was making the most of it. He would retire early, so as not to invade our privacy, and he would read and read until he was ready to sleep.
In a couple of days, Kosta was getting better. The power was back on, and it was time to attack all the boxes that had been on the cement slab outside under a tarp since we had unloaded the trucks. There was nowhere else to put them. Rich moved them all into a storage shed on the property about a block from the house.
One night at dinner we learned something else. We knew Rich had been reluctant to eat at the table with us before we moved in while he was just doing work around the property. He finally told us that he had not felt worthy to eat at the table with us because of the kind of life he had lived.
The first time he'd ever joined us at the table was in the other house the night before we moved. Our friends were there helping to pack and load the truck, and one of them had brought a big crock pot of spaghetti to feed all of us. The table and chairs weren't on the truck yet, so we all sat down to eat together.
Rich saw that it would be awkward for everyone if he didn't sit down with the group. After that the barrier was broken and for the next few weeks Rich was like another member of the family. We paid him for his work so that he could save the money to find a place to live where he would have his privacy. He was also able to pick up some odd jobs at the church.
One night Rich told Kosta he had been reading the Bible, and that he had become a Christian. He and Kosta had continued to talk about spiritual things, and Rich wanted to have what we did. We could see his attitudes and life were changing, but he was still a very young believer.
About this time, our pastor, Bill, who had been in the area a long time and knew a lot of the local business people, found a possible job for Rich at a gas station. He quickly showed his worth and was promoted to station manager. Also around this time, Kosta had discovered a room for rent in Paso Robles. Kosta and Rich went to see it, and it was reasonable enough to afford.
The home was owned by a widow who was living there alone. Kosta took me over to meet her later and she decided to rent to Rich. He was to have a room, a bathroom, and a sitting room with a TV on the ground floor. Her quarters were on the second story. They shared the kitchen. At this time Rich still had long hair and looked like Charles Manson. I was amazed that a widow would rent to someone she knew little about who looked so unconventional.
Later on, when I asked about that, she said she did it because we had had Rich living with us and we had acted as references for him. When Rich had first moved in with us, I had been looking forward to having our privacy back. The night he moved out, I was very sad. I knew something had happened in the relationship. We had all bonded to each other. He came up to me before he left and asked if he could give me a hug. It seemed appropriate. We had, by that time, been through a lot together. We had gotten to know each other much better, but we knew we had only scratched the surface. There was still a lot we did not know that Rich did not want to discuss yet.
Rich moved out, but the relationship between the three of us grew closer.
We began to celebrate special occasions together.
In the summer of 1994, my nephew (then 12) moved in with us for a few months. By this time, we had started to have a private Christmas celebration with Rich -- usually the day after Christmas, since we always went to my mother's overnight for Christmas Day.
Bobby was missing his parents and brother (who was with my mom), and his adjustment to our family was a hard one. He was a TV kid, and we didn't have one. We were a bit stricter than his parents. Although he was making new friends, it still took special arrangements to see them, since we live in a rural area. Kosta and I were missing the privacy we were accustomed to, as well. He also had to spend some weekends out of town helping his parents. That could make the weekends pretty long for me, trying to entertain Bobby on my own.
During this time, Rich was a great help. Sometimes on Sunday afternoons he'd take Bobby to do something special, acting as a sort of big brother. That gave me some solitude to regroup.
When Christmas came around, I decided my present to all of us would be matching blue flannel shirts. We took Bobby to see his grandma and his little brother for Christmas, and then we had our Christmas with Rich when we came back. (Rich by this time had his own business as an auto mechanic, and could not take many days off.) I gave everyone their shirts, including me. (See photo above.) The next Sunday, all of us except Kosta wore our shirts to church. This picture was taken at the church.
The years rolled by and our friendship continued to grow
We generally met at least once a weeik
We started studying the Bible together on Friday nights. He studied the Bible with a Jehovah's Witness friend on Wednesday nights. Sometimes he came to church with us, and occasionally he went to Kingdom Hall with his other friend. He had a bit of trouble with the concept of the Trinity he was trying to resolve.
He was a lot of fun to study with because he asked questions that no one else ever had in our studies.He also was excited about learning. He'd come over directly from work on Friday nights and we'd have dinner together and then have our Bible study. Then we'd talk until he got tired and went home.
By this time Rich was really like part of the family. After Bobby had returned home before school started in 1995, my mother moved to Paso Robles to be near me. That meant that the family gathered at her house for Thanksgiving and Easter. Rich began to join us at Easter, since we had always had that holiday with him. He spent Thanksgiving at our pastor's home, and sometimes Christmas as well, since we often went south to my brother's for Christmas.
As time passed, he joined the extended family for more holidays, and he and my brother got along well. He helped all of us when we had anything that needed fixing. He took an electrical connection and phone line to our outbuildings, fixed anything that was broken, gave tech support and advice when I had computer problems, and helped my mom connect a television. We all came to depend on him a lot. He also maintained our cars.
Through all this, we did encourage him to let his family back east know that he was okay. We begged him to call his mother on Mother's Day, but he said he couldn't do it yet. He said he loved his mother, but it wouldn't work to contact her. We had trouble understanding this. He was hoping I could duplicate the birthday cake she always made him, but he wouldn't let me call her for the recipe, so I never got it right. We did, however, find a cake he liked, and he got to choose the menu on his birthday, which we made a big deal of every year.
In 2002, things began to change. He had always had a certain amount of back pain, but the pain began to get worse. He was also getting closer to us and our extended family
He was even included when we had Easter dinner out, and he even put on a suit for the occasion. I had never seen him in a suit before. Afterward, we all came back to Mom's and we took pictures inside and out. As 2002 came to an end, for the very first time he came with us to my brother's for Christmas, something he had never taken off work to do before. We did not realize the significance of this at the time.
Holidays with the Family - But we couldn't get too many pictures. Rich was a bit camera shy.Click thumbnail to view full-size
2003 -- The Last year
Suicide Warning Signs We Missed
We should have suspected something early in the year. Shortly before his birthday (January 25) Rich told me not to make a big deal of his birthday this year. Usually it was a high point. We had a special dinner we all looked forward to, and we had the special cake I made at no other time. It was a lot of work, but we wanted him to feel special.
I was a bit disappointed not to have the special dinner, which, I believe was also a Friday night, but I was also very busy with work and was relieved in a way to not have the big production. Now, knowing what I do now, I suspect his appetite was declining. He had not been feeling well for some time. His back and knees were causing him so much pain he was trying to make his own arthritis medications. He had no medical insurance, and he would not go to a doctor even when we offered to pay.
Sometime during the next couple of months he began to hear the music in his head off and on. It became progressively worse by late spring. He began to ask various friends if we could explain it. He talked to our pastors. Since he was hearing hymns, he was wondering if it was some sort of spiritual experience. Or, maybe, was he going crazy? By May, it was keeping him awake, along with the pain, so that he wasn't getting much sleep.
On Friday, May 16, we had what I did not know would be our last Bible study. We were discussing some Old Testament passages. I don't remember the comments I made, but Rich started to tell me that those passages pointed to the truth of the Trinity he had always questioned. It's as though that night he finally decided on his theology -- that he finally straightened it out in his mind. The next Sunday, he came to church for the first time in a long time. I happened not to be there that week, but I'm told that he talked to a lot of people about the music in his head, which he was still trying to understand. Bill loaned him a couple of hymn books -- one for work and one for home -- so he could see the words to the music and sing along. And that brings us back to the Tuesday visit mentioned at the beginning of this article.
A Video about the Relationship between Depression and Suicidal Thoughts
How I Wish I Could Turn the Clock Back to May 20, 2003
I want to do that night over, knowing what I know now.
Could we have prevented Rich's suicide? I don't know if it would have made a difference, but it might have. He gave us so many hints that night of what he was about to do and we were too blind to see them. Even though we knew Rich saw suicide as an acceptable solution to some problems, such as a painful terminal illness, I guess we did not actually believe he would leave us that way. When he mentioned the music again that night, my husband said, "Maybe it's a foretaste of Heaven." Then I told him not to try to get there any sooner. He made no comment except a kind of grunt that indicated he heard me.
At that time, I had not yet had my Stephen Ministry training. If I had had it, I might not have been afraid to bring up the subject of suicide.
When you suspect a person might be suicidal, it's not only OK, but actually important to talk about it. I could have asked that night if he was thinking of ending his life. Then we might have been able to talk about it, find out the reasons why and try to help him see another way out of his problems. It might not have changed his mind, but as I look back, it might be he was hoping we could change his mind. It's obvious he could see no other solution.
What I had not heard him tell my husband was the name of the illness he had diagnosed himself with on the Internet. My husband had not heard of it, but he didn't ask questions, only indicated he had heard. He thought Rich would elaborate, but he didn't. I would have asked.
Later, after his death, we heard there was a history of brain cancer in his family. My husband also talked to some of his doctor friends at the gym. They told him that the music Rich was hearing was symptomatic of a brain tumor. If that's what Rich suspected, he could probably only see himself eventually losing his mind or dying a very painful death in an undignified manner. He would have wanted neither.
One thing he said in the midst of his tears that night was that he had heard the voice of his Shepherd, who said it (then quickly changed the word to "it" to "I") was OK. I'm sure to Rich that meant God had said what he was going to do was OK, and that he could then act without guilt. His landlady said that he was out in the garage that night when he came home, having a smoke for a long time.
He was probably stalling. I'm quite sure he didn't really want to leave us or life -- thus the tears. He just couldn't, in his foggy thinking after nights without sleeping, think of another option to take away his pain and keep his mind functioning normally. He didn't talk about it because he'd already made up his mind and didn't want to tell us because he knew we thought suicide was never the right solution.
We had talked about it hypothetically many times, and he'd made it clear that he would not die of a painful terminal illness. This picture is of Rich in his work clothes, the way we usually saw him, and the way he was dressed that last night.
Teen Depression and it's Relationship to Suicide - A video about suicide's link to depression.
Here are some facts about teen depression and suicide and how you might be able to make a difference.
May 21, 2003
Getting the bad news of Rich's Suicide
Anyone who has ever lost a loved one suddenly and unexpectedly probably remembers exactly how they got the bad news. Part of my daily routine is processing my book orders and then taking them to the post office. For some reason that night I came right home when normally I would have stopped at my Mom's on the way home for a short visit.
I was hungry, and my husband was on the phone, so I got myself a snack and started eating. While I was eating I heard my husband say, "No, I haven't told her yet." If you've ever heard those words, you know they aren't words you want to hear.
As soon as my husband got off the phone, I asked him what he hadn't told me. He told me to finish eating first. By that time I was pretty upset because I knew it must be bad. So I finished quickly and didn't really taste much after that. Then my husband told me Rich was dead. He didn't know the details. We rushed over to the house where he lived.
When we arrived there was a police car and my pastors were standing outside. The policeman asked us a lot of questions and if we knew of any reason Rich might have wanted to kill himself. We told them we couldn't think of any. We described how he had been losing sleep, refused the offer of a ride home the night before, and had called to tell us he had arrived safely home so we wouldn't worry. We asked if they thought it was a suicide and that officer said no. Then we went into the house.
Maxine, the widow who owned the home, said that late in the afternoon she noticed that Rich's car was still there and she wondered why he had not gone to work as usual. She knew he went in late sometimes because of his disturbed sleep, but he had never gone in that late. She knocked on his door, hoping to wake him. He was deaf in one ear, so she knocked again and called out to him. Still no answer.
She finally got up her courage and opened the door, to check on him. She saw him lying on the floor, his head turned away, and she saw some blood. She thought, perhaps, he'd had an aneurysm, but when she tried to touch him to see if he was conscious, she saw he was dead and called 911. Even then she did not suspect suicide.
Finally the coroner came and while he was with Rich we each continued to tell our stories to each other. Besides Maxine, our pastors and a couple of other close friends of Rich besides us were present. We were all wanting to know how Rich died. The coroner finally came out and told us Rich died by his own hand.
I know Maxine screamed 'No!" That's what all of us were feeling. We asked how he knew, and he said the gun was under the bed where it must have landed. I think we were all in shock.
The police called the mortuary. They asked about next of kin and I said he had a mother and brother but I didn't know where they were except probably in New Jersey. I wasn't even sure of their last name, since I knew Rich's birth father died when he was very young and his step- father was the only father he remembered. The people from the mortuary came and as they were about to wheel Rich out, I asked if I could see him. They said that wasn't a good idea and it would be better to wait until the mortuary had fixed him up. That was the last I saw of Rich -- covered up and wheeled away forever.
My Emotional Reaction
Although my son had died in an accident twelve years earlier, this was my first time being present when the mortuary came for someone. Jason had died instantly in another city two hours away and I wasn't there. Others who were there had to wait hours for the officials to do their thing and wait for Jason to be taken to our local mortuary. We weren't able to see him for about four days. So when they wheeled Rich away, I felt like screaming. I knew he was disappearing from our lives forever.
After they did an autopsy, he was taken back to the mortuary. They had not yet found the next of kin. We really wanted to bury Rich locally, but we didn't have the authority. We had to wait. Meanwhile, we were making arrangements to have the memorial service at our church where everyone knew Rich. It was over a week before they found his mother. I called her, because I knew how it would hurt and how hungry she would be for information about the son she had not seen for a decade. It was Rich's brother John who finally came west to make the arrangements. He decided to come to the memorial service we already had planned, and he was among the speakers. The others, besides us, were close friends and the pastor. Attending the service were many of Rich's friends from our church and other churches, and many of his work contacts -- other mechanics, suppliers, and customers. I wrote the obituary -- it was the least I could do. Rich's brother had him cremated and they took him to join the other deceased members of his family.
Rich's Personal Statement of Faith
Why Are We Here? By Rich Troyan
Although we may be one of God's elect, we lack the character that God requires
in the one who shares His company. We gain this character from the experiences we have on earth, both good and bad. In a "cause and effect" type of learning process, we see the distinction between living in Satan's world, and in one that would be to God's pleasing. With this vision of a godly world, and the fact that we live in Satan's, we grasp the element of faithfulness and our trust in the Lord.
It is not enough for the Lord to command these qualities in his subjects; it must be bred into them, so the subject totally believes in it himself, not just because the Lord "said so." The Lord can then put His trust in them when the time comes to call his subjects together. And the fact that you are one of His elect, having God's sponsorship of your character training here on earth, is all by God's grace.
Some learn more quickly and become teachers who help the rest, not knowing exactly who their students are until the day of reunion, therefore teaching all. I trust the Lord has a special place in His heart for these people.
Others may have lived for years without the Lord and in Satan's reach (yet, by God's love, not in his grasp) learning from another source: the Devil himself. Then one day God pulls you away from Satan, and Jesus sheds His light on you. Then the Lord puts His teachers at your disposal and you learn what many have already known for most of their lives: that life is in the Son of God.
But you have seen what many of these people haven't; you've seen the workings of Satan through mechanical experience, not from seeing it from afar, and this makes you love the Lord that much more. This also allows you to learn God's ways in a different manner, because what God is warning others about, you have lived firsthand and it's exactly as He says, and you remember this. You also remember the times your life was spared, for no other reason than it was the Lord's will. However, this you learn later in life.
It is only now that the never-ending path to righteousness begins, and someday you will remember how the Lord has helped and guided you in every step and in every way, and it's exciting.
There is much more to the character building of man than what I have made reference to here, but the main reason for this message is to express some of my thoughts of thanks to the Lord, for Jesus Christ being in my life; and to praise God cheerfully with all my heart, not because I have been told to, but because this is the way I feel.
More information on suicide, surviving the suicide of a loved one, and suicide prevention
Since suicide touches the lives of about one in four people in some way, a lot has been written about it. Here are some of the best links I've found and a book suggestion.
For More Information on Suicide's Aftermath and Prevention
- Suicide Information, Resources & Support | Healthy Place
Learn more about suicide today. Whether you're struggling or know someone who is, we're here to help with trusted & extensive suicide resources & info.
- How to handle a phone call from a suicidal person
This is something one should read just to be prepared. You never know when a friend, relative, or even acquaintance might call you. Or that person might not call -- he might just start talking to you out of the blue when you are together. If you have
- Chasing Death: Understanding a Friend's Suicide
This is the transcript of a radio interview with a person whose friend jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge.
Sometimes one can make a difference in the life of a suicidal friend. Many people like Rich don't really want to die. They just don't see another way out of their pain or circumstances.
The aftermath of suicide
The things that hurt
When we lost Rich, the first reaction was shock, grief, and a tremendous sense of loss. This was followed by a kind of anger. How could he do this to us? He had told us how much his step-father's death (an apparent suicide made to look like an accident) had hurt his family. We couldn't believe he would cause us that same kind of hurt.
Then I remembered his tears that last night and knew that he hadn't really wanted to leave us; he wanted to leave a painful situation he could not yet trust God to take care of. He had come to say goodbye, knowing we would understand that later on.
Some of his very close friends came to visit us one night as we tried together to deal with Rich's death. It helps to find someone to talk to that is also hurting and understands. You may not get answers, but you can at least ask the questions and know you aren't alone.
Suicide is so hard to deal with because you know your loved one has chosen, for whatever reason, to leave you. There is a certain amount of rejection you feel when that happens. It hurts more than an accidental death because a person who dies in an accident isn't making a deliberate decision to leave you.
Keep in Mind
If you have lost a loved one through suicide, it is important to deal with your grief.
Here are some suggestions for how to do that.
1. Find someone to talk to who understands what you are dealing with and who will listen to you. This may be a pastor, grief counselor, or maybe a friend who has been through it. Sometimes the mortuary will help you find a grief counselor or support group. Sometimes your local paper will have a list of local support groups and when they meet.
2. Do not blame yourself for the death. Your first impulse will be to wonder how you could have prevented the suicide, what you might have said or not said, done or not done, that might have produced a different result. You probably can't help these thoughts.
I was the last one to talk to Rich alive. If only I had known, I would have done a lot of things differently. If only we had known, our last meeting with him at the house might have been handled differently. Even if we had been able to turn the clock back and do it over, we don't know that it would have made a difference. It all depends upon how firmly a person has made up his or her mind. You might thwart one attempt, but a really determined person will try again. We found this out a few years earlier when one of our neighbors commit suicide. Her second attempt was successful.
3. Reject the thought of shame and guilt that you will tend to feel if someone close to you chooses death. It wasn't your fault. It was a decision your loved one made, for whatever reason. If it was a family member, it doesn't prove that something is wrong with your family. It is not a deep dark secret that you need to hide. Some people do hide it and try to handle it alone.
They don't realize how many other people's lives have also been touched by a suicide. People you know may be hiding a suicide in their family because they think there is a stigma to it. If you answer questions honestly about the cause of death, it may actually help someone else who is struggling alone to recover to open up and get some help.
4. Read some books that offer help to suicide survivors -- those who have lost loved ones to suicide. I will offer some suggestions below.
Books helped me in dealing with Rich's suicide
I found myself reading every book I could get my hands on after Rich died. I wanted to understand what might have made him do it. I wanted, I suppose, assurance that I wasn't partly responsible for it. When you lose someone this way, you want so many answers, because you are asking so many questions.
This book helped me the most in dealing with suicide.
Maybe You Can Prevent a Suicide
Holidays Are the Hardest Times for Suicide Survivors
I wrote this poem to help me get through the the first Christmas Eve after Rich died.
Throughout our friendship, we had always spent one special evening together during the Chirstmas season. When we had to leave town for Christmas, we usually celebrated right after Christmas. That's when we exchanged our gifts and had our special dinner. When we no longer had to leave town, we spent our Christmas Eves together. So that first Christmas Eve was really rough. I wrote this not just for us, but also for Rich's other friends, and sent it to them with his pictures in place of a Christmas card that first year.
Weep Not for Me This Christmas
Weep not for me this Christmas
I've just gone on ahead
To a place my Savior has prepared
Where no more tears are shed.
Please forgive my haste in leaving.
I was eager to explore
The land beyond Jordan
I could see through Heaven's door.
I could hear the heavenly choir
The music beckoned me.
I simply couldn't help myself
Please don't weep for me.
I didn't want to cause you pain.
That's why I wept that night.
And I prayed for you in my last hours
That He would hold you tight.
We're together in God's heart
He loves us where we are.
And though you cannot see me,
I'm not really very far.